photo by Janer

‘I think you can blame Thatcher’ – An interview with Hard Skin’s Fat Bob

‘We are busy, we’re always busy recording. You didn’t think we can make genius music on the spot? It takes years and minutes of hard work in rehearsal rooms. Every year we practice.‘ – Niall McGuirk attempts to interview Hard Skin‘s Fat Bob, aka Sean Forbes.

Hard Skin are an intriguing prospect. Part comedy, part skin head, but very independent and with all three members deeply active in music. Before Hard Skin ever played these 3 were part of a diy scene that inspired a generation. When Sean Forbes came to Dublin with Wat Tyler (for the second time) it was part of a DIY Festival on in the City Arts centre. Sean was armed with information on how to bring out your own record and an eager young dublin music scene soaked up this info. Many of the contacts contained in that info sheet were subsequently used and this was a scene repeated in many cities.

There was great anticipation when Hard Skin got together for their first gig. Many weren’t expecting the irreverent oi style of music that came about. The straightforward in your face lyrics from their album Hard Knocks and Hard Cunts were a shock to those who had experience bands like the Tone or Thatcher on Acid or Brocolli that came before Hard Skin. Sean became Fat Bob, Ben turned into Johnny Takeaway and Scott exploded into Nipper. Together they are Hard Skin, irreverent but deep down authentic. I had a chat with Fat Bob around the time of their Dublin gig last week.

How did three wide eyed young boys become skinheads?
I’ve always been an oi boy, went to a load of the gigs in the 80s and even though I may not have looked like one I loved all the No Future records. As for Johnny Takeway and Nipper I have no idea. Although Nipper did play in Oi Polloi and that has the word Oi in it and Johnny Takeawyay is old enough to know Cock Sparrer in 1975 so I’m sure he was probably in the East End of London with them before they were on Decca Records.

Where does the anger of the songs come from?
The fact that they’ve put up beer prices and the pubs are closing down because people can’t afford to drink there as the beer is too expensive. Then the pubs close and you’ve got nowhere to go. Out on the street is not good enough. At our age you need to be sat with a stool in the pub.

What about the police and the special attention. Why is there such antipathy for those poor old boys and girls in blue?
Well they’ve always been bastards. When you were young you used to get hassled by the pigs, and now you’re older but they’re still bastards cos you know that they’re hassling kids for no reason. They’re out there, making peoples lives unhappy pushing them about, basically being wankers. We’re against that in all forms.

You’ve two versions of truth at the moment as you’ve two versions of the one album. Is there any chance we can blame Thatcher on that?
I think you can blame Thatcher because we are the kids of Thatchers generation and because of that we have become greedy and because of that we needed to do two versions of our album to make more money. The bills are getting bigger, Nipper has four kids now. He’s not even 35, he’s looking for an 11 a side team. He shoots he scores.

What about you and Johnny, no kids yet?
Nah it just hasn’t happened. It will do. I think the right age to have children is 50. 50 has become the new 30 and we are both close to it.

Is that why you’re doing a lot of gigs these days? Before the children come along?
It’s all getting put in a fund. Buggies and baby food are not cheap these days and weddings and fines from the police.

I suppose you are going to a lot of 50th birthday parties as well?
We always did 50th birthday parties. The first gig we did was a wedding in Hackney. It was Jon Actives wedding and he was already 50 in mind anyway. From then onwards it’s gone sideways.

The Rebellion festival (annual punk festival that takes place in Blackpool every August) last year had a large reference to you being an anti-fascist band. Was there a particular reason why you said that?
One of the things about Rebellion is that a lot of people slag it off and unless you go there you can’t understand what it is. It’s a really good time, there’s never any trouble. The reason its a really good time is that there’s people from all over the world who come there, all different colours and shapes and sizes. I find it unbelievable that just around the corner there’s a gig put on by bands of questionable intent. A lot of thiose bands are nationalist and for me that’s the same as a fascist band.

Every year?
Apparantly there’s another gig this year and most of their hatred will be drected towards Hard Skin but hey we got broad shoulders.

I’d say you’re looking forward to it?
If I had my way I’d play next door or try and get on the bill and give them absolute shit. I’m about 50 stone and I’m sure I could do some damage.

If you brought your badminton racket you could do some damage.
Yeah, smash them up.

The extensive research I did for this interview referenced Sham 69 as well as Cockney Rejects. No chance of Jimmy Pursey sharing the stage with you at rebellion this year (both bands are on the bill)?
No chance at all. We played one of the early Rebellions and Sham 69 were on the bill. We were all looking forward to hanging out with Pursey and we were gonna suggest to him that we do a record together rather than his shit old band that he’s got. Come and play with someone 3/4’s of his age and make a proper oi record again. But we got there and we played and 2 minutes after we played we were told we have to leave the dressing room because Sham 69 wanted to eat their dinner!

So there’s no truth he’s gonna do a ballet duet with you this year?
If he wants to do a ballet duet all he’s gotta do is apologise and that’ll be fine. If Jimmy Pursey thinks he’s there for the kids then he’s wrong. I was realy disappointed with that. It’s a big festival with hundreds of bands and to control a back stage area is pathetic. No one’s that important.

Except maybe Cockney Rejects?
Well they would batter you.

Pop Quiz
How important are the following things in your life?

Very important. Not just football, non-league football is more important than anything. Next to Milwall there’s a team called Dulwich Hamlet and they’re two stops away from the den. They are the most important non league team. They got a promotion last year for the first time in 35 years. If you wanna buy a season ticket you can get them from the website.

Is important but it’s more personal politics now. Things that affect your life and the fact that bills go up and the quality of life goes down and there’s old people now who can’t afford to have their heating on. That’s the type of politics that’s important to me. Apart from anti-fascism of course, going out and battering the bastards who go and spread muck.

If you look at all our songs they all have food references. Egg fried rice, sausage, bacon and brown sauce. It’s all about eating, we live to eat.

Only our music. The rest of it you shouldn’t bother with.

Really important to have a fight, especially on the street with your shirt off.

Keeping healthy?
Not important at all. Live long die fat.

How important are the following record labels?

Household Name
(Hard Skins’ second album, ‘Same Meat Different Gravy’ came out on this label)
Never heard of it.

Damaged Goods (the label for the aforementioned first album)
I don’t know what you’re talking about mate.

Snuffy Smile (distributes their records in Japan and brought out a split 7″ with them and Blotto)
Sounds mad.

Rugger Bugger (Sean and Bens label of yore)
Is that some sort of gay label?.

All the madmen? (label of The Mob who Hard Skin played with in Poland recently)
Who now? That sounds like a David Bowie tribute label. Quite sad I would say.

EMI? (major record label of which there was an tribute album brought out by Rugger Bugger, Fuck EMI)
It’s a good label. If they offered me a deal I’d be there in minutes. A job on the old fruit and veg market isn’t great for the bones.

Have you heard about a record that came out years ago about EMI?
By who?

All these mad unknown punk bands.
What, covering songs on EMI? That’s mad.

I don’t think it sold much anyway.
I don’t think it was important, I wouldn’t even mention it. In fact I think I might have seen that album and I couldn’t believe that noone covered the Cockney Rejects. A massive, massive error form all concerned.

No Angelic Upstarts either?
No, nothing. Maybe someone should do Fuck EMI Two, or Fuck EMI, Fuck EMI, Fuck You.

Maybe that could be your next album in 9 years time?
We are busy, we’re always busy recording. You didn’t think we can make genius music on the spot. It takes years and minutes of hard work in rehearsal rooms. Every year we practice.

It must cost you a fortune rehearsing.
I practice daily in my room – D.I.Y.

What do the following people mean to you:

Margaret Thatcher?
Fucking Cow

Tony Blair?
Fucking Cow

David Cameron?
Never Heard of him

Steve Ignorant?
What’s that? Ohhh I have heard of him. Is he the new singer for Paranoid Visions?

Yep, I thought you were in touch with the Dublin punk scene and now Paranoid Visions have this new fella. Seemingly he’s been around a while – he looks it alright! I’m not sure of his background, I thought you might have known.
I think he sells dodgy aftershave on the market in Dagenham.

What do you think of the following bands:
They’re amazing, but they should have called themselves something else. If your parents ask what your bands called and you say “Four Skins”, it’s not good news is it? Imagine if you’re in that band Fucked Up and you’re at a family dinner and your uncle says how is your band Fucked Up doing?

Cockney Rejects?
The best, the film is amazing. Stinky Turner is a legend. Top man.

Chas n Dave?
Amazing. I’ve seen them play about 20 times and they always say the same jokes. You can not knock that.

Wat Tyler?
Never heard of it it sounds rubbish.

They used to have a re-union gig every year but i believe the money dried up
I heard once that they did a reunion gig three years ago and the bass player didn’t turn up cos of snow. He got sacked from the band by an official letter from the other two members. Even thought the band no longer existed, but he still got sacked. It ‘s a high paying job.

Omega Tribe?
I’ve heard of them. They were really a fun band, good times. I really like their disco era.

Have you heard that band Cauliflower? they’re just a pale imtation of Brocolli.

The Clash?
Shit punk. overated nonsense. Shouldn’t even bother.

Some of you may not know or have even come across Record Shop Dude. It’s a piece put together by noisey for vice magazine on you tube. It features fat bob (whose day job is a buyer for Rough trade in London) talking irreverently about music happenings. I asked Sean how did it all come about.
Vice and Noisey saw a genius at work and when I’m in East London and taking loads of gack with them they say you owe us loads of money for taking free cocaine and i think you’re gonna have to pay us back by going on the internet once a week and being rude to people. I did a few pilots and they weren’t rude enough so they held me to ransom to be really rude to people I liked and I found it devastatingly hard.

Was it that difficult?
I got used to it quite easily.

Do you have to slip in and out of persona?
I think they might be the same person, they have morphed into one like a boyfriend and girlfriend they start acting and looking like each other.

Can you tell the difference at this stage?
They’re both fat, i can tell you that. If you put them together you could probably sink a ship, it’s lucky they are the same person cos i don’t think the world has got enough wood underneath it to take the weight of these guys together.

Hard Skin have had a novel idea for their new album. they have released 2 version of it. One called On The Balls where the band sing their own songs and the other called ‘Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear’ with guest female vocalists on each song. The guests are an impressive line up of women in independent music. Women like Joanna Newsom, Beki Bondage, Manda Rin, and Miki Berenyi have all got songs to sing.

What about the new album(s) – two for the price of two?
Exactly, you should be in marketing.

Is that because you’re not going to release another record for years so you bring 2 out at once.?
No, there’s gonna be a 12″ this year, with cover versions. We are really prolific, we’re on it at the moment. We are going to Peter Gabreiels studio, Real World in bath, which is loads of money and we are gonna record covers of bands we played with over the years. It would be great to do an ‘Oi! this is a tribute to EMI’.

We had the idea for this type of record for years, I don’t know why but it just didn’t happen. Then all of a sudden we said let’s get this together and as soon as we did that we wrote songs in a four hour rehearsal, recorded them the day after and then just bosh. Then we got all the birds in, mostly one day and they all got really mullered, pissed up – record your vocals and bosh, another classic album.

You must be very proud, you’ve released 4 classic albums in 15 years.
I think it might be 18 years, it’s not much but we have got a classic singles album as well. It’s unbelievable, all of them amazing. Tell me another live album that’s half recorded in Japan (Tokyo) and half in Ireland (Belfast). We’re breaking barriers everyday.

Was that how the Good Friday Agreement came about?
I think it was part of it.

And there we left it, Hard Skin – anti-fascist peacemakers (with 2 new records out).

World War Z
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